The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht
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This book envelopes the reader in a realistic world of war and mucus and a big, friendly, dumb white dog with a square black head, loved and even slightly worshipped by all who know him. Then there' an equally real seeming fantasy world of a deathless man, a town sparsely populated with damaged veterans, and a woman married to a tiger. And there's the in between world of the tiger himself, big, and orange with a square head, feared and hated by almost everyone who knows of him. There's a batterer musician butcher, an apothecary that I don't understand, a little bear killer, a dying, living loving grandfather, and an accomplished doctor granddaughter. The story is set in the real Balkans but in mythical villages there. The symbolism in this book vibrates in your soul like the low rumblings of the tiger
It takes a talented writer to infuse stories of folklore and reality into a book that’s both captivating and realistic. It’s not an easy recipe for storytelling, but sometimes the best stories are the hardest ones to tell. I think that’s the case in Tea Obreht’s debut novel, The Tiger’s Wife.
Set in unnamed Balkan nations, The Tiger’s Wife tells the story of Natalia, a young physician who is traveling to an orphanage to inoculate wartime orphans. En route, she learns of her grandfather’s death. Natalia knew her grandfather was ill with cancer, so his death came as no surprise, but she was stunned to learn where her grandfather died – in a little village near the orphanage where she was headed. Why was he there instead of at home with Natalia’s grandmother and mother?
As Natalia contemplates her grandfather’s death, she reminisces about his life – specifically stories from his childhood and youth. There’s the Tiger’s Wife – a young deaf-mute woman from his village – and the Deathless Man – who captures souls before people die. Even further, you learn about the village butcher, apothecary and local bear killer. Here’s where Obreht shines: the retelling of folkloric stories, the conjuring of superstition and the devastations of war. In these tales, which are woven through Natalia’s narrative, the reader must employ patience and suspend some level of disbelief. In doing so, you will be rewarded with stories that will enrich and delight you.
The rhythm of The Tiger’s Wife takes some getting used to. Stylistically, it’s a complicated novel with interweaving story lines and time frames. Even writers with more experience could lose themselves in this storytelling. The fact that Obreht didn’t is a testament to her writing talent. I would recommend The Tiger’s Wife to readers who enjoy folklore with contemporary fiction. I look forward to future stories by this talented young writer.
In my earliest memory, my grandfather is bald as a stone and he takes me to see the tigers.
The Tiger's Wife is a rather odd novel, not quite like anything I have read before, and it took a couple of days of reflection for me to decide how much I liked it. In the end, I decided that I liked it very much, in part because it did cause me to think about it rather than close the book with a “well, that's that.”
Natalia is a doctor who is traveling to an orphanage, with her friend and fellow doctor Zora, to inoculate the children. In two war torn but unnamed countries, there is fresh hostility and suspicion, not the way things used to be. While waiting for a border crossing approval, Natalia learns that her grandfather has died, and he was not where he was supposed to be when he died. Something of a mystery.
The story actually told surprisingly little about Natalia and Zora. It was really the grandfather's tale. He had two important stories in his life: The Deathless Man, which he told to Natalia, and The Tiger's Wife, which she had to discover for herself.
This is not a straightforward, linear book. Tales branch off into other tales, characters that seem initially inconsequential have important stories of their own. It all has a fairytale feel to it. There is much description and relatively little action, but it all ties together beautifully. The last paragraph of the book is absolutely gorgeous.
I was given an advance reader's edition of this book by the publisher for review. Thank you to Random House and LibraryThing.
writestuff, if you love it before you've finished it, you'll want to be able to give it 6 stars by the time you reach the end. This is one of those rare books that stays with me after books I've read since then have been forgotten.
Here's my review: http://www.caribousmom.com/2011/07/10/the-tigers-wife-book-review/
I did not find it well written. I did not care about any of the characters. I did not think she kept track of all the different threads well enough (or at any rate, I couldn't keep track of the different threads).
And it was a sense of frustration, rather than relief, when I got to the end, because this could have been so much more fun to read.
I did like the deathless man, I thought he had a great backstory and a great present (and a great presence). And I did like when we dipped into other characters' backstories (the interlinking of the deathless man & Luka's backstory was a high point, in particular).
But did anyone *really* buy Natalia as a doctor? She was the weakest point for me, I never believed her as a real character once (why doesn't she just tell Zora that her grandfather has died??). Zora was more believable, but didn't get enough time in the book. I know the story isn't about Natalia, it's about her telling the story of the tiger's wife as told to her by her grandfather, but if you don't believe your narrator is a real person, you're in trouble.
And Shere Khan is neither as glossy or as threatening in The Jungle Book as he is meant to be in this book.
As for Shere Khan, I had to work hard to keep the Disney Jungle Book movie out of my head.
#20> I'm glad other people like it, I'm just all grumpy because I wanted to like it, and I paid $33 for my copy. If it had been a cheaper second hand copy, or not a winner of the Orange Prize, I might have been nicer about it because the disappointment (fiscal and entertainment-wise) would have been less. I'll try to calm down before I write my review. :)
BUT there is a lot of outrage lately that we're being charged 50% more on things like iTunes compared to the US when there's absolutely no shipping cost. People are beginning to price compare online as a matter of course, and the local retailers are beginning to feel the sting. (Funnily enough, a study just showed that online retailing is also adding $80 billion to the Australian economy, so it's just the traditional retailers who were too scared/in denial about online shopping who are missing out. Businesses who got in early with online shopping are doing well.)
I'm half helping my local retailers (I *like* my local bookshop!! I don't want it to go!!), but I'm also beginning to buy from The Book Depository (etc) a lot more now.
Usually I check and see if a book is available at the library; then check and see if it's available locally and put it on my wishlist if it is; and I hit TBD if it's not available easily in Sydney.
Tomorrow I'm planning on hitting my favourite bookshops in town: I have in mind a Penguin classic ($10, so hardly worth trying to source second hand or from TBD), and I'm going to pre-order a fun looking sci-fi romp that is discounted on their website (and will be in the local shops before an order from TBD will reach me, if my last order with them - 3 weeks and still waiting! - is anything to go by). It's still going to cost me $28, but I reckon I can afford to help them along a little. (Jeez, it's half that price on TBD!! Why did I go looking???)
You have my sympathy! And also a little jealousy - I'd love to visit Australia someday.
I used to be okay with ~$30 for a nice brand new book, it didn't worry me because, really, $30 is pretty good for hours of entertainment. Now I'm getting fussy, now I've been shown that other people pay half of that, for exactly the same entertainment.
Well, I absolutely loved The Tiger's Wife (I've yet to write any kind of a review beyond the brief comments I left on my 75 Challenge thread, but I'll try to do so soon).
I was interested in both Zora and Natalia, but for me, there story was just backdrop, so it didn't matter that it wasn't fleshed out - I can't help but feel that if we'd spent too much time with them, it would have detracted from the story of her Grandfather, the Tiger's wife herself and (my favourite), the Deathless Man?
ETA: obviously, by "there" story, i meant "their" story... (!)
"What a storyteller this young author is. I loved every page, every sentence. It doesn't matter at all that I'm not sure what "meaning" to take away from the book, although I will certainly read it again--and soon--to see what gels the second time around.
We are given to understand that the present action takes place in the former Yugoslavia, sometime "after the war" that separated that country. There are place names a-plenty, and references to "the Marshal", border crossings, checkpoints, but the names that became so familiar in the 20th century--Kosovo, Bosnia, Croatia, Srebrenica, Milosevic, Tudman--do not appear and the politics of the conflicts are totally absent, so it is almost possible to imagine everything happening just outside the known limits of the real world in a place where what feels fabulous to us can be accepted as normal. A tiger set free from a zoo ruined by bombing may find a soul-mate in a deaf, mute, abused woman. A man may fling himself from a cliff in despair at having lost his true love, only to find that he has broken Death's rules and cannot die. A taxidermist turned bear hunter may become one of the creatures whose pelts he collects. I found the magic of the words erased any fragment of disbelief in the magic of the stories. I am very aware that there are flaws in The Tiger's Wife as a Novel, but I don't care. I was swept away and astonished, and this will be one of my all-time favorite reads."
Reason No. 2: I've ended up with an extra paperback copy of the book. If anyone here would like to have it for January Orange reading, I'll be happy to mail it out.
I did really enjoy The Tiger's Wife though I thought there were even better books on the shortlist and longlist. The Memory of Love was the best of the listed books I read, I think - I also loved Swamplandia!, The Invisible Bridge and Lyrics Alley and I loved the international flavour of last year's list, I hope this year is as interesting.
My review: http://www.librarything.com/work/10012725/reviews/81521263
Sidenote: Those paperback prices in Australia are insane!
I'm curious what anyone has to say about Blood Letting and Other Miraculous Cures. I've read raves, but I'm still a little skeptical. (Sorry for diverging).
My favourite bits of this book were the stories about the deathless man. He pretty much pulled me along, as this novel was one that took a while for me to get into. I like the way it comes together in the end. Definitely worth the read.